Thursday, March 16, 2017

CONYERS Statement for the Hearing, “Combating Crimes against Children: Assessing the Legal Landscape,” by the Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations

Dean of the U.S. House
of Representatives
John Conyers. Jr.
Today’s hearing by this subcommittee will discuss the serious and disturbing issue of the criminal victimization of children.  With all of our efforts to fight the various forms of child exploitation, it continues to be a threat to our young people. 

However, we have developed strategies to both prevent and respond to these crimes, and to assist the many children who are victims.  I trust we will learn about the strategies that are working and how we can do better. 

In April of last year, the Department of Justice reported to us that the main threats in this area in the next five years will be:  child pornography, sextortion, child sex trafficking, sex offender registry violations, and child sex tourism.

The response to these crimes involves an intricate network of federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies, and private, nonprofit organizations and advocates, supported by direct federal funding authorizations and grant programs, all working together to keep our youngest constituents safe from harm.

Today we will hear from individuals, representing some of the entities involved in this very necessary mission.  Their roles illustrate the ways we can do more and do better. 

First, we in Congress must recognize that, while we can enact federal legislation, state and local law enforcement are on the front lines and we must support their partnerships with federal agencies.  The Internet Crimes against Children Task Force program, funded through the Justice Department’s Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, provides training and technical assistance and regularly conducts undercover online investigative operations.

Since Congress mandated creation of this program, 3,500 federal, state, and local law enforcement and prosecutorial agencies have joined to form 61 coordinated regional task forces.  These task forces are especially important now, because we are seeing a tremendous increase in crimes perpetrated against children on the Internet.

Detective Patrick Beaver, from the Loudon County Virginia Sheriff’s Office, will speak with us today about the successes his office has had working with the Northern Virginia Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force to conduct an operation targeting internet predators last year.

Next, we must provide specialized assistance to families, victims, and law enforcement to help prevent child abductions, recover missing children, identify and assist victims of child pornography and child sex trafficking.  That is the mission of the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, and we will hear from their representative today about what they are experiencing in providing this assistance. 

As a former local and federal prosecutor, Ms. Francey Hakes will also help tell us about the challenges at the state and federal levels in fighting these crimes and enforcing our laws. 

All of this will help us as we consider legislation to amend and reauthorize important statutes such as the Adam Walsh Act and the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.  

Clearly, we must do more to prevent and investigate these crimes – and especially assist their many victims.  When we do apprehend and convict offenders, we must recognize that most of them will be released back into society at some point.  

The Sex Offender Registration and Notification Act is intended to establish a nationwide system of monitoring and tracking sex offenders, particularly after they are released from prison.  Currently, there are over 850,000 registered sex offenders in this country.

If we are going to have such a system, we must ensure that it is used in appropriate circumstances and in the most effective manner.  However, only 17 states are in substantial compliance with its requirements.

States, policy makers, researchers, and advocates continue to object to the requirements established by SORNA for many reasons.

One of the most pervasive criticisms of SORNA is the inclusion of juveniles on registries. Ms. Nicole Pittman is here with us today to discuss the real impact of juvenile registration – on the juveniles, their families, and the overall effectiveness of SORNA.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for holding this hearing on this important topic.  We all wish that child exploitation could be eradicated, but the problem persists.  With what we learn today, I hope we can work together to come closer to achieving our goal.

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